There were several open bathroom stalls on the left. The doors were painted rustic orange with stains. The central panel had a tiny window overlooking the sunset while the right panel featured several sinks and bathroom mirrors. A half naked girl, predictively enrolled in primary school judging from the red rectangular backpack she has on her shoulders, was rinsing her face and hair. She was clothed in a mere pair of white ankle socks and white underpants, with hair neatly braided in two tails.
All the while, another woman was washing her hands at a nearby sink. Though the woman was quietly rinsing, her reflections started to rattle the mirror with a heavy duty hammer, smashing the glass and smearing her own blood all over the floor. The woman, though still washing her hands at the sink, started to bleed silently. She left the sink nonchalantly and wrapped herself in gauze, holding dear to her wound and disappeared into a nearby stall.
This is Tabaimo’s video installation piece: public conVENience. The piece had recently appeared as a part of the Japanese artist’s Utsutsushi utsushi exhibit at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.
In this installation, the artist showed highly provocative and bizarre images in a seemingly public setting. The artist found it quite interesting that although public bathrooms are public spaces, each stall becomes a private space with the division of thin walls. The artist also claimed that the piece was a metaphor for “the virtual space on the internet nowadays” in which people anonymously leave awful and bizarre comments in a somewhat public setting.
For me, what provoked my senses were the portrayals of women. The naked school girl reminded me immediately of child pornography, a popular theme in the Japanese entertainment industry. Often featured in anime and movies, young girls are subjected to the eyes of male obsessors, sometimes coined as Loli-con in Japanese, as sexual goddesses. The fact that the girl in the installation was continuously washing her hair and face, was almost a ritual in hopes of rinsing the impure and the contaminated minds of people.
The injured woman led my mind to the issue of domestic violence. Though there was no men in sight, and the injury was inflicted by the woman’s own mirror reflection, the eerie sense of silence and tolerability in the situation reminds me very much of the DV nature. Most cases of DV are not reported. In some, the wives even deny the abuse and sought to protect their husbands reputation instead of seeking help for themselves. I wonder if Tabaimo was also using her piece to reference the home as a private space, in which outsiders cannot even detect the slight bit of darkness within an abusive household.
Besides the two women, there was another woman who gave birth to a baby through her nose in a bathroom stall. She then deliberately put the newborn on a turtle’s back and flushed it down the toilet, watching it disappear with the roiling waters.
Midway through the video installation, four Japanese kanji characters appeared: 公衆便女 (ko. syu. ben. jyo). Direct translation: public bathroom girls. It is all the more interesting because the final character “女” (jyo) meaning ‘girl’ has the same pronunciation as “所” (jyo), which is the original character that makes up the phrase ‘public bathroom’.
Here, Tabaimo had substitute the character with ‘girl’, making it even more convincing that the artist was referring to the many denouncing and hell-like portrayals of women in society.
More on Tabaimo:
Utsutsushi utsushi Interview, 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_9eRLibjI8
Interview 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiA3fOEBVi4
Artist Bio: http://www.jamescohan.com/artists/tabaimo/